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Old 2nd April 2013, 11:05   #1
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Default Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-dsc08174ed.jpg
I was the shyest human ever invented, but I had a lion inside me that wouldn't shut up! ~ Ingrid Bergman

In the far western corner of India, spread out in a little over 250 sq. km. in the Saurashtra region, is a deciduous jungle where the king lives with his queens and children. Some 411 of them at the last count in April 2010, and growing in numbers. Fascinating and majestic, the Asiatic Lion (Panthera leo persica) pulled back from the verge of extinction, when their numbers dwindled to a dozen or so at the turn of the 20th century.
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In India, lions were distributed across Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. Severe hunting by the royalty and colonial powers led to a steady and marked decline of lion numbers in the country. Asiatic lions were exterminated in Palamau by 1814, in Baroda, Hariana and Ahmedabad in the 1830s, in Kot Diji and Damoh in the 1840s. During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a British officer shot 300 lions. The last lions of Gwalior and Rewah were shot in the 1870s. Until 1880, no lion survived in Guna, Deesa and Palanpur, and only about a dozen lions were left in the Junagadh district. By the turn of the century, they were confined to the Gir Forest and protected by the Nawab of Junagadh in his private hunting grounds.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 11:53   #2
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-maldhari.jpg
A Maldhari man

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Maldharis are nomadic tribal herdsmen who live in the Gujarat state of India. The literal meaning of Maldhari is "owner of animal stock". They are notable as the traditional dairymen of the region, and once supplied milk and cheese to the palaces of rajas. They are descendants of nomads who periodically came from Pakistan, Rajasthan and other parts of Gujarat, and finally settled in the Banni grasslands.

There are 8,400 Maldharis living in Gir Forest National Park.

The Maldharis have lived in the Gir National Park, in the Banni Grasslands Reserve area, for the past thousand years. They have co-existed with the lions, which the Gir National Park was created to preserve, for these thousand years. The lions have been periodically hunting the Maldhari cattle for food, but the Maldharis understand the cycle of life. They consider the taken cows an offering to the lions, whose territory they share.

Creation of a sanctuary for lions necessitated movement of humans out of the region, so as to provide a safe shelter for the large cats. However, the Maldhari community steadfastly protested any relocation. There were a few tribal groups that were moved from the National Park, however, their relocation procedure was mismanaged. The Maldhari tribesmen have had to face eviction threats and accusations by government authorities of endangering the lions, just for living in the land of their forefathers. In addition, due to mismanagement of the existing population of lions in the National Park, the interaction between the lions and the tribals have increased over the past few decades. Experts note that although the populations of lions have been increasing, the land has been shrinking. Not only have some lions started exploring outside the reserve for food, but some tribesmen from Maldhari and other communities have also been charged of poisoning or poaching lions.
1 2
A Maldhari man with his livestock. Notice the thick stick they all carry when venturing into the jungle.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-maldhariman.jpg

My fascination with the forests of Gir began in the autumn of 1995, when I visited Sasan Gir with my mother and a couple of family friends, as a part of a larger 10-day roadtrip around Saurashtra from Ahmedabad. The lone doctor at the primary health centre in Sasan Gir was someone I knew, and we set off from Somnath one afternoon to meet him.

It is a shame that I have lost some of the photographs of those days to the ravages of time and shifting to other cities, but some incidents are vividly etched in my mind. It was the first week of October, and it rained heavily that afternoon. Near a place called Talala, before reaching Sasan, was a fair weather causeway. When we arrived there, a raging torrent of water was flowing across the causeway, making passage impossible.

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Old 2nd April 2013, 12:39   #3
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By the time the water subsided and we could reach Sasan, it was well past 8 pm. We were ravenously hungry, but the Sinh Sadan where we were booked to stay for the night, would not serve dinner without prior notice. The doctor came to our help, and in the 3-shop little village that Sasan was then, he managed to have a shop open up and serve us rotli and sev-tameta - and I have fallen in love with the simplicity of Kathiawari food since then.

Sev-tameta
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sevtameta.jpg

Unfortunately for us (this was still not the age of the internet), official entry to the Gir forest was still a few days away, and we were not aware of this when we had planned our trip - tourism inside the forest officially begins from 16th October every year. Never mind, the good doctor said, let's see if we can spot a few lions in the night.

Whaaat! at night?!

So we all piled into the Amby we had rented from Ahmedabad, and quickly turned off from the paved road into jungle tracks. A guard at the barrier was all-so-familiar with the doctor, and a few words saw us headed into a sinister vista of thick trees and tall grass. The driver was most unhappy about venturing into the unknown, terrified as he was of being eaten alive by lions if the car broke down somewhere, but the doctor reassured him that a tractor will be called to pull us and the car out of the jungle in case of such an unfortunate eventuality!

A couple of kilometres later, we came across a lone man walking along the path, with nothing but a torch and a thick stick in his hands. The lions must be getting ready for their dinner, I thought, or this man must be the bravest person on Earth. We pulled up beside him, and this was our first introduction to a Maldhari in the flesh.

A village of the Maldharis inside Gir Forest, aka a 'ness'
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-ness.jpg

The man was on his way to his village, and he spoke to the doctor with great respect (after all, the doctor was their sole saviour in case of injuries and lion attacks - and such attacks were not uncommon). We picked him up, and he appeared to know where a pride of lions was resting nearby.

A Maldhari woman fetches water to her village
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-maldhariwoman.jpg

After travelling further into the jungle, we came upon an open grassland. The Maldhari asked the driver to stop and switch off his headlights, as he shone his torch to one side. In the distance, a couple of hundred metres away, a few fireflies seemed to glimmer back. And a thrill ran down my spine as we realised... Oh no, those aren't fireflies at all!

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Old 2nd April 2013, 13:12   #4
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-track.jpg
Imagine traversing this road at night in an Amby

As silently as the Amby's rattly 1.5L diesel engine could manage, the driver started the car, and proceeded to take a U-turn on the track. In the light of the headlamps, we could identify at least 4-5 lions and lionesses staring right back at us. At the sight of these animals, our driver utterly lost his nerve.

Running away may be the right way to describe what happened next, but it was more about bumping and bouncing away than running. Inevitably, the Amby took a hit from a rock on its underbelly, and suddenly started vibrating in protest.

Slowing down to a more reasonable speed, we made it to the spot where the maldhari wanted to be dropped off, and then we were out of the forest. A quick inspection showed marks of a hit on the propeller shaft. Tomorrow morning, we would have to return to Veraval for repairs - there were no car mechanics nearby.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 13:47   #5
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sinhsadanstairs.jpg
Sinh Sadan, Sasan Gir

After that first trip to Gir, I was smitten. I wanted to return. It took me a dozen years to find time to go back again, this time accompanied by my wife and daughter. This was in October 2007. On 16th October, to be precise. And we did it in style. Thanks to our friends again, we got to stay in the lavish and huge VIP room at Sinh Sadan.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sinhsadan.jpg


Why bother to go out, when the loo is big enough to take your morning walk in?
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sinhsadanloo.jpg

But this time, the only lion we met was an old lioness in the Gir Interpretation Zone at Devaliya.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-lion1giz.jpg

But there was a reason for it...
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Old 2nd April 2013, 14:09   #6
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Note from Mod : Thread moved from Assembly Line to Travelogues Section. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 14:49   #7
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

Cool stuff. Interesting writeup - combining 2 different trips to Gir with photos from the recent trip and thoughts from the first trip

I have lived near Veraval for sometime and this thread has a touch of home for me . Eagerly waiting for the rest of the tale and the reason for meeting only an old lioness on your second foray into Gir. Hope that in the last trip you were more successful.

Bring it on!
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Old 2nd April 2013, 21:22   #8
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Originally Posted by SS-Traveller View Post
But there was a reason for it...
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Originally Posted by sach.sri View Post
Eagerly waiting for the rest of the tale and the reason for meeting only an old lioness on your second foray into Gir. Hope that in the last trip you were more successful.
The monsoon of 2007 had been particularly heavy in Gujarat. And Gir forest was clothed in a dense carpet of green in October that year. Unless a lion (or for that matter, any animal or bird) actually walked on the road on which a safari Gypsy travelled, it was impossible to spot it further away.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-undergrowthpeacocks.jpg

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-undergrowthskull.jpg

Fast forward to March 2013. Gujarat (along with other states like MH and MP) has been reeling under an unprecedented drought. The green is long gone, replaced by a leafless tawny brown.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-noundergrowthpeacocks.jpg

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-noundergrowth.jpg

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-noundergrowthskull.jpg

A brown that camouflages the lion, but does not let it hide from the keen eyes of the guide.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-hiddenlioness.jpg

Especially when the guide is a man with 17 years of experience of tracking lions in these forests. A man called Bhikubhai.
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Old 2nd April 2013, 22:29   #9
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In the intervening 5.5 years between October 2007 and March 2013, there have been striking changes in Sasan Gir. For one, the shops and eateries have multiplied in number.

In 2007, there were just a few nondescript shops on a deserted road in front of Sinh Sadan.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-shops2007.jpg

Today, there are air-conditioned eateries serving north-Indian fare, apart from soft drinks & coconuts, and selling souvenirs like hats and T-shirts. In 2007, just a few souvenirs could be bought from the Forest Department's own outlet inside Sinh Sadan.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-shops2013.jpg

The guides used to dress in a camouflage uniform then. Compare the uniform in 2007 (below) to the one worn today, as seen in the previous post.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-guidejanak.jpg

While the drivers of the Gypsy safari vehicles wears an uniform today...
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-driveruniform.jpg

...the drivers of 2007 didn't. This fellow is called Atul, and...
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-driveratul.jpg

...this is how Atul looks in March 2013 - presently off-duty, and the owner of 2 Gypsies.
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-driveratul2013.jpg

All the Gypsies have now switched to using CNG, from the petrol engines of previous years - though a number of them still run 1.0L carburetted engines.

So what hasn't changed? Here are the Forest Department's prices for entry into the Sanctuary in 2007...
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-prices-2007.jpg

...and the prices as displayed in 2013. Inflation-proof!
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-prices-2013.jpg

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Old 3rd April 2013, 10:29   #10
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Default Booking for Tourism at Gir Forest

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sinhsadangate.jpg

There has been a profusion of hotels and guest houses in and around Sasan Gir. Yet, the Gujarat Forest Department-run Sinh Sadan is probably the best place to stay there, despite the fact that booking a room is a slightly difficult exercise.
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The Sinh Sadan, Forest Department’s Guest House and a famous hunting lodge in the past, was constructed in 1911. There are 70 beds (8 AC, 2 delux, 10 ordinary rooms and one dormitory) with annual capacity of over 16000 occupancy. This rest house is equipped with all facilities to cater to the needs of tourists. Tents are also pitched in the campus to provide accommodation to the visitors during peak period of tourist season.
Source
Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-sinhsadandiningroom.jpg

You need to write a letter or preferably send a fax to
The Manager
Sinh Sadan Guest House
P.O. Sasan, Taluka: Talala,
Dist. Junagadh, India. Pin : 362135
Phone/FAX: 02877-285540

On receiving a confirmation by fax, you need to send them a DD for the booking amount, and you can have your room - the tariffs can be seen in the previous post.

Now to book for your trip(s) into the jungle. There are 3 timings - at 6:30AM, 9:00 AM and 3:30 PM.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-safaritiming.jpg

For each session, only 30 bookings/vehicles are allowed - and 15 of these are available through prior reservation. It is best to reserve your safari(s) beforehand by writing to

The Range Forest Officer ( Reception )
Sinh Sadan Guest House
P.O. Sasan, Taluka: Talala,
Dist. Junagadh, India. Pin : 362135
Phone/FAX: 02877-285540

He will send you a confirmation by replying to your fax, and you need to pay nothing beforehand. The payment can be made and the permit picked up on the previous evening between 5 & 7 PM. Otherwise, there is a huge crowd waiting to grab the other permits, and if you are unlucky enough to visit during peak season, you'll end up facing a crowd like this and standing in a queue for a few hours.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-receptioncentrecrowd.jpg

The cost of a safari for up to 6 persons is:
1) A charge of Rs.550 in total for the permits and guide fee;
2) Rs.1000 for hiring a Gypsy, payable at the counter itself. You could opt to take your own car into the forest too, provided it is Euro-III/BS-3 compliant (you need to have the original RC and PUC available, along with your DL, with copies);
3. Rs.100 per camera (above 7.1 MP, but then which camera today isn't?). No charges for cellphone cameras. Do make sure you declare all cameras that you take inside, else there's a penalty of Rs.1000 in case you are caught, for taking in a camera without paying the requisite fees. Some guides actually report you to the gate.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-cameranotice.jpg

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Old 3rd April 2013, 12:11   #11
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Default Re: Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest

For a change, first time a detailed report on the logistics at Sasan Gir. No one wrote about all this before.

Thanks SS. Waiting for more.

p.s: Atul was not all that helpfull when I was planning my trip in 2012. It is a different matter that the trip never materialised due to certain un-avoidable circumstances.

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Old 3rd April 2013, 12:30   #12
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What a delightful thread - for once the information shared here is far far more valuable than the thread & travelogue! Rating 5 stars - please don't stop!
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Old 3rd April 2013, 13:45   #13
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p.s: Atul was not all that helpfull when I was planning my trip in 2012.
Indeed, Atul was unable to help me much this time either. The earlier system of booking safaris and rooms at Sinh Sadan used to be through any local representative, carrying a copy of your ID card. Now, the Forest Department has become stricter, and route & permit allotments have become more controlled and computer-generated. As a result, drivers and guides have no say in the booking process.

Tourists therefore either have to stand in a queue personally to get the 15 permits (plus any leftovers for the permits that have not been pre-booked already), or fax in and book in advance. Only the counter person has any control over the routes being allotted, and he is the one who allots the route as well as the specific guide who will accompany you, based on a turn-by-turn process.

On a crowded day, you'll need to queue up early (such as on the day of Holi, when we waited through 4.5 hours in a queue, from 10:30AM to 3PM, taking turns to keep our place - only because we had nowhere else we wanted to go to). For a morning safari, people queued up from 4 AM, oe paid someone Rs.500 to keep their seat (given that we had 3 sightings totalling 9 lions on the first day on Route 6, we were not that enthusiastic). On a lean day, the counter fellow may just oblige you by giving you the route of your choice, but not a specific guide you want - it'll depend on which guide's turn it is to go with you.

There are 8 defined routes inside the jungle.

Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-mapzones.jpg


Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-route1.jpg


Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-route2.jpg


Hawk-On-Fours® (H-4®) Roadtrip: Reminiscences of Gir Forest-routenames.jpg

The worst route for spottings is Route #1 - it runs through villages of the Maldharis and Siddis, and along farmlands & mango orchards. We did however manage to spot a leopard on this route. Drivers and guides say that routes 2, 4, 6 & 7 are supposed to be the best for finding lions. But then, obviously, a lot of your chances of spotting lions depends on your luck and the experience & enterprise of your guide.

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Old 4th April 2013, 08:51   #14
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Tourists therefore either have to stand in a queue personally to get the 15 permits.

There are 8 defined routes inside the jungle.
What is the process to take your own vehicle inside the park?

How long do they permit you to run the vehicle inside?

Are the roads inside motorable for a hatchback?

Do you think June 1st week ( Middle of week ) will be crowded ?
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Old 4th April 2013, 10:40   #15
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Fantastic travelogue Doc Saab. And the information that you've shared with the routes, timings, booking procedure, etc is simply outstanding. More information than the Sasan Girs website itself
I think that this travelogue would surely work as a Guide for anyone wishing to book rooms and safaris at Sasan Gir. I've already bookmarked this thread for future reference.
Totally glued and waiting for more
Cheers

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What is the process to take your own vehicle inside the park?

How long do they permit you to run the vehicle inside?

Are the roads inside motorable for a hatchback?

Do you think June 1st week ( Middle of week ) will be crowded ?
Doc would be able to answer the questions in certainty, however let me try and answer some of them

I think that at the time of sourcing the permits you need to state that you wish to take your own vehicle inside the park. Also as Doc stated that you need a valid license, Car registration Docs (stating that its a EURO III & above) & also having a PUC would be advisable.

Again I'm guessing here that the timings for normal safari which applies for those who are hiring a Gypsy would apply to those who wish to take their own vehicles as well. I too was there in Mar'13 and observed a Suzuki Hatchback doing the safari as well. He entered the park alongwith our Gypsy and exited alongwith our vehicle.

As my reply above and my experience, hatchbacks wouldn't have any issue driving through the forest. The forest paths are motorable.

It would surely be quite hot in June. So I assume that crowds should be less. If I ain't mistaken, the park closed around the mid of June. Better to call the forest office and confirm before heading there.
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